Looking for some of the best dive sites in the world? While many jet off to Central and South America on gap years and holidays, attracted by the wealth of cultures, countries and landscapes the continent has to offer, not many decide to explore “what lies beneath”. Here we explore five of the multiple diving destinations to see just what Central and South America have to offer both the experienced and rookie diver.
Los cenotes, Mexico
A ‘cenote’, characteristic of Mexico, is a sinkhole in the land, formed by the collapsing of limestone bedrock, which then exposes the groundwater underneath. When the cenote goes deep enough, saline water can intrude from the nearby coast forming what is called a halocline, whereby the refraction between different saline densities causes a surreal yet spectacular swirling effect. Other features of note are the extraordinary cave systems formed by the gradual dissolving of coral limestone. Dive Cenotes Mexico offers tailored cave and cavern diving services, from beginner to advanced level, with trips to a variety of different cenotes, including Cenote Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote and Angelita.
Image dMap Travel Guide via Flickr
Great Blue Hole, Belize
A blue hole is an underwater sinkhole, a natural hole in the surface layer of land on the seabed that collapses inwards, creating a vertical cave. Because the water in the blue hole is a lot deeper than the water around the edge, there is a marked contrast between the colour of the water in the hole and that around it when seen from above, hence the name. The Great Blue Hole in Belize is situated in the center of Lighthouse Reef and is 126m deep. Not only does the surrounding reef offer beautiful examples of fish and marine life, the Great Blue Hole offers examples of underwater stalactites formed from when the cave was above water. Making an appearance on www.discovery.com’s ten most amazing places on earth, the Great Blue Hole is a sight not to be missed. Belize diving services offers trips to the blue hole which include food and drink, with dives for the very experienced down to 40m to see the stalactite formations, or those less qualified can dive to 24m to explore and perhaps see some sharks.
Image Chris Allnat, via www.ambergriscaye.com
Dive Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica
Although the Papagayo Peninsula cannot offer the same stunning rock formations as Great Blue Hole, it can offer a vast abundance of marine life, making it well worth a visit. Divers see seahorses, moray eels and turtles and may swim alongside a bull shark in the nearby Bat Islands. Don’t be put off by the slightly murky waters and underwhelming seascape because the diversity of the marine life more than makes up for it. If going as far afield as the Catalina and Bat Islands divers have to be fairly advanced due to strong currents. Boats to these sites take between one and two hours from Ocotal on the Gulf of Papagayo. Dive with Rocket Frog Divers, who offer personally tailored trips, either local or to the Catalina and Bat islands.
Image Philippe Guillaume via Flickr
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago of 21 islands and islets, named after the largest of the group. It is situated off the Northeastern coast of Brazil, a one-hour flight from Recife. Divers come here predominantly for the incredible array of marine life the islands have to offer and can look out for spinner dolphins, sea turtles, green turtles, stingrays and manta rays, amongst others. Most tourists dive with, and recommend, Atlantis Divers, which offers dives for both beginners and experts to numerous, carefully investigated, destinations around the islands.
Image Ana_Cotta via Flickr
Although commercial diving in Peru is not particularly popular as of yet, with most overlooking this cold water destination for the warm currents of the Caribbean, Peru has a lot to offer in terms of diving, with an abundance of marine life and the kelp forest, which hides behind it a wealth of biodiversity. If you are an accomplished diver and have seen stunning marine life and beautiful underwater rock formations already, why not try something completely different and dive with sea lions? Many would think you were mad to get into the sea with a sea lion colony but they are definitely not as threatening as they are commonly perceived to be. In fact, they too very much enjoy diving with humans. Nature Expeditions Peru, operating from the port of Callao, on the edge of Lima, offers a full day expedition diving with sea lions. The price covers lunch, and two dives. Although you already need to be a fully qualified diver for this trip, the company also offers day long ‘swim with sea lions’ expeditions.
Image NOAA’s National Ocean Service via Flickr